Can We File a Joint Tax Return If We Are Only Married Part of a Year?

by Kristine Tucker ; Updated July 27, 2017
A couple can file jointly on their tax return even if they were only married part of the year.

Married couples can file a joint tax return at the end of the year even if they were only married for a portion of the year. If a legal marriage occurred during any portion of the fiscal year, the couple can file jointly with a married status. In the case of divorce where a couple is only married for a portion of the year, the couple is no longer living together and may not claim married filing jointly on their tax returns.

Married Status at End of the Year

You are considered married for the whole year if on the last day of the tax year you and your spouse are married and are living together as husband and wife, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Even if your wedding is on December 31st, you are still eligible to file a joint tax return. If you are married and living apart but are not legally separated, you can file a joint return. In that case, you are still considered legally married.

Divorce

IRS guidelines state that you are not permitted to file a joint tax return if on the last day of the tax year, you are divorced, unmarried or legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree. The laws within your state of residence determine whether you are legally married, separated or divorced. If you are divorced under a final decree by the last day of the year, you are considered unmarried for the whole year and can not file a joint tax return.

Legal Marriage

You may file a joint tax return with a spouse if your marriage is legal. A marriage is a legal union between a man and a woman as husband and wife, according to IRS rules. Gay marriages are not recognized by the federal government for tax purposes and are not eligible for joint filing. A legal marriage certificate showing the date of the marriage can be used to prove marital status if you are audited by the IRS.

Spouse Died

If your spouse died anytime during the year, you are considered married for the entire year and can file jointly with your deceased spouse. As long as you did not remarry before the end of the tax year, you can file a joint return. Additionally, for the next two years, you qualify for special benefits under the Qualifying Widow(er) With Dependent Child status. If you remarry before the end of the tax year, you can file a joint return with your new spouse, and your deceased spouse's filing status is married filing separately for that year.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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